August 22, 2013

Soup to Nuts: What's for lunch?

We asked some experts – who also happen to be moms and dads – what their kids would be packing when the school bell rings.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

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Anna Greene, 6, slips a container of fruit into a shopping cart at the Forest Avenue Hannaford in Portland, where she was shopping with her mom, Julie Greene.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Julie Greene, manager for healthy living at Hannaford, shops with her children, Ben, 10, and Anna, 6. “If you involve (your children) in the decisions about what they want to eat,” Greene said, “they’re much more likely to eat it.”

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below


J.M. Hirsch, food editor for The Associated Press, is a firm believer that when it comes to making school lunches, recipes are not necessary. But he does believe in using leftovers. So all the recipes in his new book, "Beating the Lunch Box Blues," (Rachael Ray Books, $18), are dinner recipes that make enough for leftovers the next day that can be used for lunches.

This recipe will make one dinner and two different school lunches:

1. Make a barbecue chicken sandwich with the leftover barbecue chicken, thinly sliced red onion and a hefty smear of hummus. Add some veggie chips and a salad made with shredded carrots, raisins and slivered almonds tossed with a vinaigrette or a creamy dressing to turn it into a slaw.

2. Make barbecue chicken and rice using chopped leftover barbecue chicken, heat-and-eat brown rice, canned beans and (if it needs more moisture) some bottled barbecue sauce. Serve with fresh strawberries splashed with balsamic vinegar and garnished with mint. For a snack, add apple slices smeared with any nut butter; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar to make it a dessert.


Start to finish: 20 minutes (plus optional marinating)

Servings: 4, plus leftovers

The simple barbecue sauce used in this recipe blends the flavors of peanut satay and traditional barbecue. Hirsch likes it on chicken thighs, but it's delicious on any cut.

Don't do peanuts? Any nut butter or alternative can be substituted, including soy nut butter or even tahini (made from sesame seeds).

Because the sauce packs tons of flavor and is low-acid, the chicken can be flavored with it immediately before cooking, or can marinate in it all day.

This recipe calls for broiling, but the chicken also can be grilled. Aim for 7 to 8 minutes per side over medium-high heat. And be sure to oil the grill grates especially well.

4-ounce jar (just shy of ½ cup) Thai red curry paste

Juice of 1 lime

¼ cup smooth peanut butter

¼ cup water

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

In a large bowl, mix together the curry paste, lime juice, peanut butter, water, salt, and pepper. Mix until a smooth, thick paste forms.

Add the chicken thighs to the bowl, being sure to unfold them. Use your hands to rub the sauce onto the meat, covering it entirely.

The meat can be cooked immediately, or marinated for up to a day.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to broil. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then set a wire rack over it. Coat the rack with cooking spray.

Arrange the chicken on the rack. Broil on the oven's middle rack for 6 minutes, then use tongs to flip the chicken. Broil for another 6 minutes.

FOLLOW J.M. HIRSCH'S school lunch blog, which is a simple record of what he makes for his son's lunch every day, at

I asked these and other experts (who are also parents) to offer advice on how to prepare a school lunch that you can feel good about and that a child will actually eat. They range from the moms shopping at the grocery store to local chefs such as Steve Corry, father of 6-year-old Seamus and 4-year-old Finnigan. Food writer J.M. Hirsch, food editor for The Associated Press and father of 8-year-old Parker, has a new book, "Beating the Lunchbox Blues" (Rachael Ray Books, $18), which is loaded with excellent suggestions for creating great school lunches.

Here are some of their suggestions:

• When you want to introduce a new food to your child's lunch box, try it out at your own kitchen table first.

"You can't hope that he's going to want to eat a ham and cheese sandwich when he's a peanut butter and jelly kid, put it in his lunch box and send it to school," Tranchemontagne said. "That sandwich is either going to get traded, or it's coming back home."

• Pay attention to packaging. It's one of the reasons Lunchables and similar products are so popular. Buy a bento box-style lunch box and fill it with a lot of little ingredients -- a few grapes, a piece of cheese, some leftover meat.

"You don't have to put a lot of effort into filling them," Hirsch said. "But filling them with different things keeps it interesting for kids. They'd like to have lots of little choices rather than one big lunch."

• Children also like to assemble things, another tendency that makes Lunchables so attractive to them. So fill that bento box with whole grain crackers, quality cheeses, meats, fruits and veggies, and let them go to town assembling it any way they want.

Tranchemontagne puts all the ingredients for "ants on a log" -- a celery stick filled with cream cheese or peanut butter, and topped with raisins or other dried fruit -- into his son's lunch.

"It's cool when he gets to (assemble) it in front of all his friends at the table," Tranchemontagne said. "If he has the ants on a log, then everyone at the table wants one."

• Let your child choose some fresh herbs or edible flowers at the grocery store or farmers market, or better yet, keep an herb garden at home, says Fredericks. Then let them experiment with different herbs on their sandwiches to see which ones they like best. Put some basil on a sandwich, or add some oregano to a vegetable dip. The child will be less likely to want to give his food away, and you'll be helping to develop his palate.

• Ask your child to help you make a list of things she will be excited and happy to have in a packed lunch, Fredericks suggested. Show her what types of foods should be in a well-balanced meal. Be prepared to compromise. A child will say, of course, that she wants cookies every day. Agree to pack cookies once a week, with the understanding that the rest of the week she'll be given fruit instead.

• If you value your time, don't go overboard with the cutesy stuff. "A lot of the traffic online in terms of lunch ideas, it tends to be of the cutesy sort," Hirsch noted. "You know, how do you shape your carrots into bunnies, and how do you mold cheese to look like mice, or carve radishes into rainbows? I'm like, wow, you people have so much time on your hands."

A simpler way to coax a pre-schooler: Fredericks makes a vinaigrette with lemon juice and oil and tells them it's "bunny juice."

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Additional Photos

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In “Beating the Lunch Box Blues” by J.M. Hirsch, the food editor for The Associated Press offers two ways to use leftover macaroni and cheese in packed lunches – as the “cheese” in a grilled cheese sandwich and as a topping for DIY nachos.

The Associated Press


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